Rabbi Melissa Weintraub wins $100,000 as young innovator

SAN FRANCISCO (JTA) – Rabbi Melissa Weintraub has been awarded $100,000 for her work training Jewish leaders to be effective agents in Israeli-Palestinian relations.

Weintraub, founder and CEO of Encounters, was one of four young Americans named as winners of the first Grinnell College Young Innovator for Social Justice Prize.

The Grinnell Prize, which received more than 1,000 nominations from 66 countries, honors individuals below the age of 40 who have demonstrated leadership in their fields and show creativity, commitment and extraordinary accomplishment in effecting positive social change.

“The winners of the Grinnell College Young Innovator for Social Justice Prize are outstanding examples of people who saw a huge social need and then worked creatively to meet that need and make the world a better place,” said Raynard Kington, the college’s president.

In the past decade, Encounter has brought more than 1,000 Jewish leaders on dialogue visits to Palestinian areas of the West Bank. The program focuses on one-on-one encounters to enable current and future opinion-makers and Jewish leaders to develop a more nuanced understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Each Grinnell Prize winner received $100,000 — half for the individual and half to the organization. Four people representing three organizations shared $300,000 in prize money this year.

“Half of Grinnell College’s generous prize money will go towards sustaining and growing Encounter’s much-needed programs in Israel and North America,” Weintraub told JTA. “ Half of the prize money will support me personally to spend next year writing a book and providing workshops, trainings, and presentations to support more constructive Israel engagement in synagogues, universities, and Jewish communal institutions.”

The other winners were Boris Bulayev and Eric Glustrom of Educate, a training program for young Ugandans; and James Kofi Annan, who founded Challenging Heights to provide education and rehabilitation for children who suffered slavery or other forms of forced child labor.

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